Cuban Alternatives – JR University
Alternatives to Cuban Cigars
Whether you are a newcomer to the world of cigars or have been enjoying cigars for decades, chances are you’ve heard about the allure and mystique of a “Cuban.” Consequently, you probably already know that there is an embargo on the import of all Cuban products – cigars included. Fueled by the Cold War and growing fear of the Cuban Revolution, this embargo officially began on February 7, 1962 and is still in effect today. However, history buffs may have heard the story of John F. Kennedy asking one of his trusted advisors to secure a sizeable stockpile of Cuban Cigars before implementing the embargo.
So what was it about this particular vintage of cigar that caused the president himself to stock up?
Much of the allure can be chalked up to a long history of production in a country that takes unsurpassed pride in the finished product. Add to this the fact that Cuban cigars are made with 100% Cuban tobacco, you get a product that is unique. So what is the American cigar aficionado to do?
Many US nationals take advantage of the easy accessibility, and legality, of purchasing Cuban cigars while traveling abroad. Nearly all popular destinations in Central America are inundated with vendors selling Cuban cigars. While it is perfectly legal for an American to purchase a Cuban cigar while traveling abroad, be advised that transporting your purchase back into the United States is a definite no-no and could land you in deep water – i.e. heavy U.S. Customs fines.
Luckily for those of us on American soil, JR hears your pleas for a solution and happily provides Cuban Alternative cigars. We’ve pinpointed brands that operate within the law yet deliver the unique zest we’ve all come to lust after.
What Makes a Cuban Alternative Legit?
Location, Location, Location
The first unique factor of the Cuban cigar, as previously mentioned, is that it’s an industry which has a legacy dating back hundreds of years. Cuba is not the only country that has been producing fine cigars for this long though. Many of the islands in the Caribbean region have a robust history of cigar production that actually predates the formation of the United States.
For instance, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and even Mexico have all been cigar producers for a very long time. The similar climates and tobacco strains found in these countries are ideal for replicating a true Cuban.
In fact, much of the institutional knowledge of cigar production found on the island of Cuba has been maintained and transported elsewhere by Cuban ex-pats who have left the country entirely to live in other countries, including the United States. For instance, Don Pepin Cigar‘s CEO Jos� Garcia left Cuba to start producing cigars in Miami.
The second aspect of Cuban cigars that makes them so desirable is the perceived superiority of the tobacco grown in Cuba itself. While the single origin nature of a true Cuban cigar is one of its selling points, it is also somewhat of a limitation. Non-Cuban cigars – including Cuban alternatives – have the advantage of blending tobacco from a vast array of geographic regions and climates to create a desirable, delicious flavor profile.
Just like “Single Malt” and “Blended” whiskies, there are advantages and disadvantages of both. Some cigars may even use “pre-embargo” Cuban Tobacco in the mix to give a slightly more authentic feel. All in all, it’s up to taste.
Although recent headlines have shown a potential thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba, chances are it will be years before any real change occurs. As long as there continues to be an embargo of Cuban products to the United States there will continue to be a market for Cuban alternative cigars. For example, the brand Genuine Counterfeit Cuban plays off of just that. And if or when the embargo is lifted, consumers may find that they actually prefer the so-called ‘alternatives’ to the real-deal.
Enjoy a Celebrated Name
Cigar tobacco seeds are especially tiny, comparable to those of dried poppy. This makes them especially weak and fragile, even though they grow a mighty product. Therefore, this delicate beginning must be carefully cultivated.
First, in the early stages seeds must be planted inside, protected from the weather. Here the seed is not actually planted under soil; instead, it is dropped on the top of a tray of dirt where it can sprout and take root without having to push up and out from underneath heavy earth.
After it grows indoors for about two months, the seedling is moved to the field. This can be a harrowing time for the tiny plant, and some may not survive. Out in the field the sprout grows vigorously, and mature in about two months. Growth time depends on the specific plant, weather conditions and the harvester’s philosophy (and perhaps superstition).
A tobacco plant must be meticulously cared for as it grows. It requires consistent clipping of tarnished, smaller or unwanted leaves. For instance, in the early stages, lower hanging leaves are pruned, become nodes that grow out, take root and help stabilize the entire plant. Flowers must also be plucked. Also, fertilizer, sometimes applied by hand (measured in fistfuls), is supplied liberally. The plant also often requires some physical support from wood or wire to grow vertically and avoid drooping. Plants grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet.
Picking and Drying the Tobacco
One of the most well regarded and celebrated Cuban cigar brands is Cohiba which was originally commissioned to make cigars for Fidel Castro himself. This brand, while still state-run, began selling to the public in the early eighties.
Of course, the Cohiba cigar brand sold in the United States contains no Cuban tobacco. What’s more, it’s not even related to its Cuban namesake. These particular cigars are actually made in the Dominican Republic by the General Cigar Company, which is based in the United States.
So next time you are shopping for cigars, give some Cuban alternatives a try. Some varieties are clearly marked as such while other may contain hints in the name such as “Havana”, like this one. Smoke happy my friends!